There were actually only two completed games at full-season ball in the Tampa Bay Rays system, but luckily for us, both of them were entertaining. We will also give the Venezuelan Winter League a look to fill in a little bit of the gap.
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Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 4, Syracuse Chiefs (WSN) 2
A shoulder injury derailed Ryan Brett‘s season, but now he is finally getting back on track. He led off this game with a solo home run, his second of the season, and finished the contest at 2 for 4 with a pair of runs scored. Brett has logged just 57 plate appearances this year between Triple-A, the majors, and a High-A rehab game, but it’s worth noting that his breakout 2013 also came in a year where he dealt with injuries. Brett may still be the Rays’ second baseman of the future, and it’s nice to see him begin to put up the numbers appropriate for such a designation.
Richie Shaffer also had a big game, going 2 for 3 with a solo home run. Shaffer is off to a strong start since being promoted to the Bulls, hitting .353 with 3 homers as he hopes to reestablish his place in the Rays’ plans. Shaffer certainly isn’t ready for the majors right now, but his goal will be to make himself prepared for the next time injuries strike the parent club. Shaffer still possesses the bat speed and power that made him the Rays’ first round pick in 2012, and he will hope to continue refining his plate approach.
Only 5 Bulls managed hits on the day, and we can say that all of them had good games. Aside from Brett and Shaffer, Allan Dykstra drilled a 2-run double that proved to be the margin in the game, Taylor Motter went 1 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored, and Alexi Casilla went 1 for 3. Motter has never garnered much prospect recognition, but he has been solid once again this year, hitting to a .274/.327/.413 line with 13 steals in 14 attempts. We have to think that he too will get an opportunity at some point.
On the mound, Scott Diamond was decent, allowing an unearned run on 4 hits in 5.1 innings. He struck out 4 while walking 1 and forced a strong 10-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He has his ERA down to 3.54–the same as his one good season in the big leagues, 2012–thanks to a ton of groundballs and very few walks. Unfortunately for him, he is still striking out very few batters. In relief, Jose Dominguez, Jordan Norberto, and Ronald Belisario all continued their iffy recent performances, but Jhan Marinez did strike out 3 while walking 1 in 1.1 hitless frames.
High-A Florida State League: Palm Beach Cardinals 9, Charlotte Stone Crabs 7
Buddy Borden entered the game with a 1.88 ERA and a 32-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 38.1 innings, but he never quite found himself in this game. He allowed 2 runs in the first inning, 1 each in the second and third, and then 4 more in the fifth as 3 errors were made behind him. He finished with 4.2 innings allowing 8 runs, 4 earned, on 10 hits, striking out 2 while walking 2 as well. However, Steve Ascher and Jordan Harrison allowed just 1 run in the game’s final 3 frames as the Charlotte offense made this one interesting.
The Stone Crabs entered the frame down 9-4, but Yoel Araujo started the inning with a double and scored on Pat Blair‘s single. Two batters later, Willy Adames doubled Blair to third, and both baserunners scored on Jake Bauers‘ 2-run double. That gave Charlotte the tying run at the plate with 1 out, but that would be as close as they would get.
Bauers went 3 for 4 with a double, a walk, and 4 RBI in the game as his breakouts season just keeps going. He is now up to a .278/.368/.468 line in 182 plate appearances, drilling 11 doubles and 5 homers, driving in 29, and posting a 27-22 strikeout to walk ratio. No one else in the system has such excellent offensive numbers and the plate discipline to give you little doubt in your mind that it can last.
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Adames, meanwhile, now has a 7-game hitting streak and a .315/.376/.464 line with 13 doubles, 2 homers, 22 RBI, and a 52-17 K-BB mark in 186 PA’s. In this game, he went 3 for 5 with 2 doubles, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. Also contributing multi-hit games were Kean Wong, Pat Blair, Yoel Araujo, and Granden Goetzman. Goetzman’s numbers have been especially interesting since he came over from extended spring training as his line stands at .300/.351/.400 in 78 plate appearances. We’re still waiting for the power, but he has a 13-6 strikeout to walk ratio after managing just a 106-16 mark last year and has 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts a year after he was just 10 for 20.
Venezuelan Summer League: VSL Rays 1, VSL Phillies 0
We haven’t mentioned the VSL Rays a single time yet even though this was their 11th game. That was by design–we are talking about players who are unbelievably far from the major leagues, most of whom we will never hear from again in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Still, it’s always nice to give a few players a chance to be mentioned, even if this will be the only time.
The VSL Rays used 5 pitchers to combine for a 7-hit shutout. Adrian Navas, a 19-year-old right-hander who is 6’2″ and 200 pounds, began the game with 3 shutout innings, getting past 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out 2. Navas has a 1.93 ERA and a 19-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 18.2 innings in the VSL over the last two seasons. Hector Lopez, another 19 year old who is more projectable at 6’4″, 190, was next up and tossed 3 shutout innings working around a hit and a walk while striking out 1. He has just a 5.94 ERA in 33.1 VSL innings, but we have talked about him once before.
Arturo Mujica had the most interesting game of this group, tossing 2 scoreless frames allowing 2 hits while striking out 2. Mujica is a 6’3″, 181 lefty and has a 9-2 strikeout to walk ratio in 6.1 innings since a questionable season debut. We never know with players in the VSL, but he sounds like the type of guy who we could see in the Gulf Coast League next year. Finally, Ender Gonzalez tossed a shutout inning allowing just a hit and earned the win when the VSL Rays walked off. He’s a 18 and 6’2″, 175, and he hasn’t allowed a run in 5 innings to start the year.
The rally in the ninth came when Anthony Cantillo was hit by a pitch, stolen second base, and scored on a single by Joao Ayres. Ayres, an 18-year-old infielder out of Brazil, has a .387/.457/.548 line with 2 doubles, a homer, and 13 RBI in 8 games. He has stolen a pair of bases and posted a 7-4 strikeout to walk ratio. Cantillo, meanwhile, is a 19-year-old second baseman with a slender 5’10”, 145 frame. He has a .333/.375/.472 line with a perfect 4 stolen bases in 4 attempts.
Also having a nice game at the plate for the VSL Rays was first baseman/outfielder Moises Cabrera. You have to like the “M. Cabrera,” and his 1-for-2 day with a walk was quite nice as well. The VSL Rays reached base just 4 times in the game, and half the time, the player getting to first was Cabrera. He is 18 years old and 6’1″, 188, and he is 4 for 13 (.308) in his first 13 at-bats as a professional.
Finally, Randhi Balcazar went 0 for 4 but did contribute an outfield assist. The hitless game was Balcazar’s first in his 10 games on the season as he is hitting to an insane .439/.478/.829 line with 4 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers, 10 RBI, and 6 stolen bases in 7 attempts. We get to finish this foray into the VSL with a somewhat actual prospect. Balcazar is 18 years old and a 6’0″, 160 centerfielder. Baseball America praised him for excellent speed and strong defense in center after the Rays signed him for $150,000 in 2014.